x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Azzam skipper Ian Walker wants back in the water

"I say three days and hopefully it's two ... but we'll do it as soon as we can," Ian Walker said as his Shore Team begin to secure the back-up mast to Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's stricken vessel.

Ian Walker, the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper.
Ian Walker, the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper.

Alicante, Spain // A back-up mast arrived at the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing base camp at 4pm Europe time yesterday (7pm UAE) as the stricken team faced another delay when wind gusts stalled the hoisting of the yacht from the water.

As a crane sat waiting over the stripped-down Azzam with wind set to abate by mid-evening, electronics specialists in the shore-side camp held a debriefing while sailors and Shore Team members analysed the three segments of the broken first mast and readied the backup for customising.

The lorry carrying the backup toward storage in the Netherlands had turned around on a motorway near Madrid 400 kilometres north, summoned after Azzam's first mast snapped into three pieces when landing from a wave on Saturday evening in the angry waters of the Mediterranean Sea during Leg 1 of the nine-month Volvo Ocean Race.

"The fact that we can get a rig here in 20 hours is extraordinary," Jamie Boag, the team director, said. "That's the good news."

Harder is the two-pronged task of ascertaining what failed - "literally forensic science," Boag said - while equipping the backup with its complex system of innards.

"I say three days and hopefully it's two, maybe it's four, but we'll do it as soon as we can," Ian Walker, the skipper, said, setting the impetus as "getting the new mast ready to go, turning the crew around and getting to Cape Town as soon as we can."

Even in ideal conditions, the installation of a new mast can require two solid days, Boag said, pointing to the relative hollowness of the backup and saying: "No wires, no instruments, no spreads, no ropes. Now, the stuff is ready to put in it. And while we've got to go flat-out fast as we can, we've got to make sure we don't make any mistakes."

In a morning press conference, an occasionally tearful Walker said, "It's not just the mast. We've wiped out all our stanchions on the port side." By afternoon, Jeremy Elliott, the sail coordinator, and the sail maker Ben Fletcher headed for Valencia one hour north-east, to a loft for repairs to sails damaged in the fracas.

As the same world-class sailors who hugged families goodbye on Saturday worked feverishly yesterday early evening, Boag said: "They've turned into machines, pretty much. Emotions gone. Not gone, but just put to one side."

Said Walker: "Sometimes you'd be amazed what a team of people can achieve in a very short time."

cculpepper@thenational.ae